solider-m4-carbine

This redefines “flower power,” doesn’t it?

The U.S. Army gets through a lot of ammunition thanks to the amount of training it carries out. But that ammunition doesn’t come without waste which slowly degrades over hundreds of years polluting whatever ground (and nearby water sources) it happens to fall upon.

So the Department of Defense (DoD) decided to do something about it, and is requesting environmentally friendly ammunition for use during training exercises.

The request was made via the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Specifically, the DoD wants “biodegradable training ammunition loaded with specialized seeds to grow environmentally beneficial plants that eliminate ammunition debris and contaminants.”

The ammunition the DoD wants to replace with biodegradable alternatives includes “low velocity 40mm grenades; 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars; shoulder launched munitions; 120mm tank rounds; and 155mm artillery rounds.” There’s also cartridge cases and sabot petals, which can either lay on the ground or end up buried beneath it.

Sourcing the seeds for use in this new ammunition won’t be a problem as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) already bioengineered them so as not to germinate for several months, allowing time for the materials containing them to sufficiently biodegrade. The seeds can then take up any remaining contaminants as they grow, further reducing harm to the environment.

This is not the military’s first foray into incorporating “green” technologies into the war machine—the 5.56 NATO M855A1 round used by the M4, M16, and M249 SAW is lead-free—but it is the first to suggest using biodegradable projectiles and cases.  That they’re considering incorporating seeds into the casings that can germinate and then digest the casing material as fertilizer is pretty neat, to be honest with you, and could greatly reduce the cost of range cleanup in the years ahead.

As long as the training ammunition works well, I think this is a really interesting idea. It will also be interesting to see if “green” small arms ammunition continues to grow in popularity as more and more people become interested in shooting and want to do so in an environmentally responsible way.